Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 332 - January 1884
Of the so-called Pastoral epistles the First of Timothy now claims our attention. It is a solemn charge of the apostle to his young fellow-servant in that place of rule which had been assigned him. Timothy was not an elder, but set to guard the doctrine, order and conduct of the elders as well as of the saints in general. But so distinct is his position from all the modern as well as possible arrangements of Christendom, that one wonders how an Episcopalian, or a Presbyterian, or a Congregationalist, can venture to appeal to it. And yet in their opposing systems, they all do cite it with similar confidence, but this, it would appear, proportioned to their failure in intelligence to see its bearing. Men are apt to be more arrogant where they have least reason.
For what analogy can honestly be traced between Timothy's position and that of a diocesan bishop, not to speak of a spiritual baron with claim to control hundreds of clergy in a given area? Development is not faith, but the avenue to corruption, and thus becomes the ruin of that which bears the name of the Lord. Again, Presbyterianism is even more distant than Episcopacy from the church in apostolic times, because it denies or dispenses with a superior authority to ordain, losing sight of the evident truth that power comes from above. Thus the Lord who chose the apostles invested them with title, themselves or by delegates where fit or when requisite, to choose elders for the saints, and appoint deacons chosen by the saints. Never in those days was such a thought as a mere elder ordaining elders. More remote still from the divine idea and primitive practice is the congregational plan of the people choosing their own religious official. All alike depart from the truth in setting aside, not only the direct and constant supply of gifts from the Lord as distinct from local charges, (if these were ever so duly appointed, whereas they are all wrong as we have seen), but the actual presence and free action of the Holy Spirit in the assembly. This they agree to count by-gone state of miraculous power, instead of owning His being with us for ever and the consequent abiding responsibility of the christian body, as long as it goes on here below.
Timothy's charge was in its measure that of an apostolic delegate, besides doing the work of an evangelist or discharging ordinary ministerial functions. He was not only to teach, but to enjoin others not to teach strange doctrines. This is so indelibly graven a frontispiece in the epistle that the difficulty is in understanding how it could be overlooked, if one did not know the eagerness with which men neglect plain truth and catch at appearance to justify themselves in that strange anomaly, unknown to God's word, the minister of a church. Scripture speaks often and seriously of ministry, and we, as believers would honour gift for the Giver's sake, value itself for its exercise of love, and hail it as a priceless blessing for souls. But beyond doubt a minister of Christ and the church is alone according to its spirit and letter; and his responsibility is immediate to the Lord Jesus the Head, though no one ought to question his liability to just scriptural discipline (like other members of His body) for walk or doctrine. But when that innovation came in, it drew another dark shadow with it, most offensive to a rightly taught spiritual mind, that a certain circle of the assembly is his flock, and he is their minister. Man's thoughts always fall short of God's word, and his will recklessly cuts through the most sacred obligations to his own loss, and the Saviour's dishonour. For the gifts are distributed in the one body, and the elders or overseers set in the flock or church of God, not each church having its own minister and each minister his church: an arrangement probably framed to correct the jealousy of the minister and the avarice of the flock. It many have been as ancient as you will: what matter if it were of the second or even the first age, if it were not of the Lord through His apostles in His word? Ministry like the church is a divine institution, and therefore is not to alter from its original. We may not have all the church once had; but therefore should we reverently cherish all that remains, which we may be assured is all that best suits our present condition and the Lord's glory, who regulates all in wisdom and love. If the church is morally a ruin (and who that knows what it was would deny the sin and shame of its present state?) He abides ever faithful and true, with all the resources of love, in the seat of power and glory. He will never abdicate, nor even relax, His functions while we need Him. People forget or never knew that He only became Head of the church since He sat down at God's right hand in heaven; and no change has ever since passed over Him, nor can whilst the work of gathering the church is in hand. But it is very and sadly different with the church as His word warned that so it should be; for departure from the faith was to set in, as grievous wolves would also, not sparing the flock; the mystery of lawlessness was to work, men were to have the form of piety denying the power thereof, evil men and imposters would wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. Hence we ought to be not at all surprised if even good men be drawn away by their dissimulation, as Barnabas and even Peter in a measure in the very earliest days.
And these pastoral epistles let us into the confidential communications that passed between the wise master-builder and his associates. For government supposes the evils and disorders which need to be checked or exposed, and shews us, not so much what the assembly has to do in such circumstances, but the duty of a man of God like Timothy or Titus. It does not follow that these epistles were at once the common property of all saints. They were addressed to individuals in a special place, and may only have been copied and circulated later on when the difficult and delicate matters which drew them forth had passed away. The truths and exhortations would always abide, even if no one could claim the peculiar place to which prophecy designated Timothy as it had Paul and Barnabas in their place before him.
"Paul, apostle of Christ1 Jesus according to command2 of God Our Saviour and Christ Jesus our hope, to Timothy genuine child in faith: grace, mercy, peace from God 3the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord." (Ver. 1, 2.)
The character of the epistle accounts for the expression. Paul is a "called" apostle, as in Romans, as in 1 Corinthians; nor this "by the will of God" nor as in the varying forms of his other letters, but it is "apostle according to command of God." The holy propriety of the language is plain when we remember that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write in words taught of Him; that it was for others rather than for Timothy is a remark unworthy of a Reformer: Calvin is sometimes too bold.
It is important to heed and understand the way in which God is here presented, as in the epistle to Titus—"God our Saviour," a blessed title of relation to all mankind. Without this, church government ever tends to be dry and narrow. Timothy was to regard God thus that his heart might be kept large and fresh, notwithstanding the details of care for the assembly in general or for individuals, whatever their position, around him. The coming, and above all the cross, of Christ has revealed God in a love that rises above the sins of rebellious and lost man, as decidedly as above the trammels and ordinances of Judaism. Till the people under the law had manifestly and totally failed, the way was not clear for the full revelation of His grace toward man as such. The middle wall of partition stood; the veil was not yet rent. The death of Christ not only broke the last tie with the Jews but opened the door of faith publicly to Gentiles no less than Israel. There is no difference, as in their ruin, so in His grace and redemption for sinners that believe in Him. The law by which He governed Israel tended to give Him the semblance of a national God who cared only for the chosen people. The gospel of His grace makes plain that, after that grand moral experiment for man to learn what he is, He is now displaying in Christ what He is Himself; and He is God our Saviour. It was good for Timothy as it is for us to weigh this blessed character of God. It might have seemed to the superficial spirit of man more consistent to have here employed an ecclesiastical title, as rule in that sphere was to occupy the Epistle so fully; but it is not so; and God is as good as He is wise. He, whose authority works by desired and chosen instruments, would have His character to the world shown as Saviour. Not of course that all men are saved, but that believers are, and that all are now called to believe on the Lord Jesus and then be saved.
Thus, if there be command flowing from divine authority (and what is there of good without it? see John xii. 50; xiv. 31), there is His character of love toward man which flows from the depths of divine grace, sovereign and full, and hence in a call of glad tidings to every creature on earth. It is the activity of His nature, now righteously able to work far and wide, in everlasting salvation, whatever His special design for those who are saved; it is authority which insists on ways consistent with His word and nature, resenting a pretension to superior holiness, which, despising God's order, becomes a prey to Satan.
But salvation known even now and here is not all. We have Him by whom it came as "our hope," even Christ Jesus, who will present us in the glory of God commensurately with His salvation. O how that blessed hope has been lowered!
In presence of such things (and there are far worse now) Timothy had need of "mercy" as well as of grace and peace. And the apostle greets with prayer accordingly.
"Even as when setting out for Macedonia I besought thee to remain in Ephesus, that thou mightest charge some not to be strange teachers, nor to pay heed to fables and endless genealogies, the which furnish questionings rather than God's dispensation4 that is in faith" (ver. 3, 4). To teach different things from the Word of God is to be a strange teacher. What hypotheses are to the man of science speculations are to the teacher; snares to take away from the divine deposit of revealed truth. True science bows to facts and seeks to discover their general principles or associations, which it calls laws; so does the believer and the teacher. To go beyond the written Word is to stray and mislead.
But when men begin to be teachers of strange doctrine, they ever venture into the region of the. fabulous and give heed to myths and interminable genealogies. So early did the love of the marvellous work among christians. Imagination is never faith, which, as it delights in knowing God and His will, so trusts in nothing but His word, however thankful for such as minister it. Imagination is the natural resource for those who know not the truth: the truth in Christ is the only perfect preservation from it. We are not distinctly told whether these faults here warned against had a Gentile or a Jewish root: if like -those denounced in the epistle to Titus, they were Jewish. From either side they issued in the Gnostic reveries and wickedness of a later day, which were especially opposed to the O. T., whereas these apparently made much though wrong use of it. The "endless genealogies" were a vain effort to solve without Christ what is otherwise insoluble, and thus be lost in wandering mazes of the mind, apart from conscience, the one inlet by grace into all truth. For conscience alone gives God His place and takes our own effectually before Him. Without conscience the heart may be attracted, but can never be trusted till it find its rest in God's love and truth, the very reverse of a vain confidence in self. Then with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the month confession is made unto salvation. And the known grace which forgives every sin takes away all guile from the spirit: for there is no more to conceal, all is judged and gene. One can then pray and praise; one desires teaching and guidance, and can call on others for and in fellowship of joy in the Lord. How dismal the descent to human speculations with its shadowy myths, and endless genealogies, occupation for the restless mind which knows not the truth—alas! which now turns from it to these husks for swine.
The apostle does not finish his sentence. Timothy would understand without question; so ought we. But he lets us know his judgment of speculation as productive of barren questionings for the mind. God's dispensation is on the contrary in faith. It is faith that He uses both to dispense and to receive.
1) Such is the order in א D F G Ρ. a few cursives, and half the ancient versions.
2) The Sinaitic gives the stupendous error of "promise" instead of "command," from assimilation perhaps to 2 Tim. i. 2 in a wholly different connexion.
3) "Our" is not in the more ancient and excellent copies.
4) All the older English Versions are wrong from Wiclif to the A. V., misled by the Syriac and Vulgate. The Clermont uncial is doubly wrong, text and correction; Vat. 1761 is the only cursive that supports the error. The Complut. edition is right; not so Erasmus, Colinĉus, Beza, Elzevir, and R. Stephens.